This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have shared their experiences of mindfulness and the natural world. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
7:30 am. In the car, in costume. Living history, ho!
I tried to muster up a level of appropriate enthusiasm, though the night before I hadn’t even thought about my costume. I’d spent the last week helping my son put his together, wasn’t that enough? What does a female Russian cowherd living in a fort on the California coast in 1821 wear, anyway? The teacher had given us a handout about headscarves and long skirts with no adornment. As I had stared at it in a ten pm daze, I regretted waiting until long after the thrift stores were closed to begin this process. My closet offered up a rather hilarious collection of items that somehow added up to an overall Russian peasant effect when I added my son’s old kindergarten apron over the top. Threw a sleeping bag into the car, and I was set.
Upon arrival at the fort, one thing became instantly clear: there is no rest for the weary. Or any sitting down. You must remain in character and make sure your “employees” (read: children) are properly preparing authentic Russian food for 40 people without any modern conveniences, unless you count the pottery butter churn as a convenience, which, I suppose, it was in 1821. Within a few hours, it was clear to me that the leather boots, which seemed such a great addition to the costume, were a bad idea, and my feet were just going to hurt like heck until our return to the 21st century.
In the afternoon, someone needed to hike back to the cars to get an emergency form for a girl who was sick and needed to call her parents. I volunteered.
“Where are you going?” some of the short endentured workers asked.
“Oh, I’m a cowherd, I need to move the cows from their pasture to the barn for milking.”
I felt like an escapee, slipping out the big fort doors, temporarily removed from the unrelenting work of trying to keep the kids focused on the cooking. I strode along the coastal path, head ducked against the high ocean wind. Thinking about the woman I’m pretending to be, her life 200 years ago, and whether she walked this same path with her cows. The chill air pushing through my clothes made me aware of her in a way I hadn’t been before; her woman’s body had felt these same winds, this same cold. And she wouldn’t have ever been back in a warm car in another 24 hours, resting her feet. So we walked together, as I started to understand how intense, immediate and taken for granted was her relationship with the natural world.
I love camping, I like to be outside, I even enjoy getting cold, wet, and exposing myself to the harshness of the elements at times. But there is a moment-to-moment choosing in my doing so, a decision to temporarily push myself, that makes these exposures seem like daring fun, not burdensome chores. Not the cows must get in before dark, never mind that it’s raining and freezing, you simply get it done. Not the direct and necessary reliance on nature to provide what is needed which humans, for most of history, have experienced.
Once I had retrieved the paper I needed, the cowherd’s ghost and I decided to walk back by a different route, looping through a stand of redwoods and over a hill. God, my feet hurt! And I could only imagine how hers must have felt every day, with boots probably made of coarser leather than my own, not to mention that she probably didn’t have any custom orthotic arch inserts for hers. Down through the shadowy woods we went, aching feet and all, and then up towards the fort, breaking out of the trees into… a miracle. A small, everyday miracle: trees block wind. Paraskovia and I were suddenly on a field of sun-warmed grasses, perfect for the cows to graze, and just walking across it was a rest. I didn’t stop—I was needed back at the fort, but my shoulders sank back into warmth and my sore, sore, feet relented just a bit. A patch of hillside where the wind doesn’t reach you, and you can finally feel the sun. Rest for the weary.
The immense relief of the break from the wind made me understand that for all the time I spend extolling the virtues of nature and “enjoying” it, I am almost entirely protected from it. For me, it wasn’t the carefully chosen historic foods, the Russian words, the cannon or costumes that gave me a real sense of lived history, it was the wind, and the cold, and that tiny moment of warmth. For in that moment, a rush of gratitude so deep and real came over me, and I felt a closer connection to the natural world than all my experience of breathtaking views, introspective hikes, and caretaking my plot of earth has ever given me. I paused, took a breath, said a silent “thank you,” and kept walking.
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